A legislature is a place for experts: MUN Prof.

James McLeod
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The Telegram

A Memorial University political science professor says functioning legislatures find a way to listen to the experts.

“Any proper legislature has a place for expert testimony,” Kelly Blidook told The Telegram this week. “Now, whether it has to be with a committee of the whole or whether it has to be with a strong standing committee that can use expert testimony and report on it, legislatures always make space for experts and this one should too.”

Political negotiations have broken down over the format of a debate on the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, with the opposition Liberals demanding expert witnesses be called into the House of Assembly, and the governing PC Party saying that’s not going to happen.

Blidook, who studies legislative behaviour, said it’s not common that experts are brought in before an entire legislature, but it does happen.

“It happens rarely, but the process still allows it to happen,” he said. “Typically you can have a committee of the whole which is where the entire legislature acts as a committee, and that’s where you can have witnesses that are called, right? And I think most people would think that’s the preferred method if you have something of broad public concern.”

The Newfoundland and Labrador legislature routinely resolves itself into a committee of the whole to examine legislation, but that does not involve questioning witnesses.

Unless all the parties in the House come to an agreement, they won’t have the unanimous consent to hold a special debate. Based on the current impasse, it seems unlikely they’ll find some common ground before the House opens on Nov. 19.

Blidook said it’s not surprising that the government is looking to bolster the public confidence with a public debate. Because the House of Assembly is structured as an adversarial crucible, if a proposal passes muster, it’s generally accepted as truth.

“At least in the Westminster parliamentary system, it’s designed to be government and opposition, right?” he said. “If something looks OK after it’s been exposed to that kind of setting, then chances are that it’s OK.”

On the other hand, he said, bringing in experts adds an extra political element, and something that’s difficult for the government to control.

“They want to be able to attack any of the points that come up in the debate. So if it’s all just opposition parties, it’s easy to say it’s just the opposition, it’s just the NDP, it’s just the Liberals,” he said. “You can’t really attack the experts the same way you can attack the other parties, right?”

As for the Liberals, they’re making a strategic gamble, too.

“I think the Liberals ultimately say, ‘look, we think there’s enough support on the side for having a debate and we think there’s even enough support on the side of having a debate with experts that we’re going to say no,’” he said. “To be fair, I mean, the reason why the government is suddenly interested in public debate is probably based on public pressure. Now, the Liberals are essentially saying we think there’s enough public pressure to keep this thing going.”

Government House leader Darin King has argued that the legislature, at its core, is a place for elected politicians to have their say.

“It’s our view that the legislature is a place where politicians sit. You walk in there because you get elected,” King said earlier this week. “The House of Assembly, that’s where politicians get to debate the merits of the project and then vote yea or nay on it.”

Blidook had a different take on it, though.

“Well, he’s wrong,” he said. “That’s why you normally have a strong committee system. A strong committee system, ultimately, that functions effectively, will be able to write reports based on expert testimony and report those back to the House.”



Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: The Telegram, NDP

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Westminster, Government House

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Recent comments

  • Winston Adams
    November 10, 2012 - 21:19

    Efficient heating is not escalating. And reduces electricity for heating by 2/3 and reduces monthly bills over 30 percent and makes MF a unnecessary waste of billions

  • Mark Noel
    November 10, 2012 - 16:50

    Well, if a "MUN prof" thinks so, that should be good enough for everyone else in the province.

  • manitoban
    November 10, 2012 - 14:32

    EXPERTS, i can't stop laughing. you can go to a kindergarten class and get straight answers on muskrat falls then you can get from these so-called EXPERTS. politics has become CORRUPT in my home province. those overpayed politicians will not listen to the people. the only time they put on a show is when they want your vote so they can sit on their butt and do little or no work for the people they are suppose to represent. WHAT A JOKE !

  • DON II
    November 10, 2012 - 10:04

    Welcome to politics in Newfoundland and Labrador Professor Blidook! Open, honest, transparent, probative,ethical debate and discussion of issues is a foreign idea that is not practiced in Newfoundland politics. The Government is influenced by lobbyists and political Party hacks who want something done and the Government makes or find a way to do it. It appears that covering up wrongdoing, suppressing the truth, creating oppressive legislation or abusing the powers of the Expropriation Act or any other legislation is acceptable behavior in the Government of Newfoundland. Expert investigation, due diligence and facts are quaint notions which may have force and effect elsewhere in democratic jurisdictions but not in Newfoundland. The Province and its people are isolated an have an isolationist mentality. If the Government of the day says its good for us, then it is good for us, no questions are to be asked. Don't dare confuse the issue with facts! The Government of Newfoundland is a master at propaganda. The politicians and bureaucrats know that most of the people are not educated or informed about the way Government really works. Practically every family in Newfoundland depends on the Government for employment or business and it is not wise to question or criticize the Government if you know what is good for you! In other words, the people are ill informed or misinformed and are intimidated into voting for and supporting whatever crackpot scheme the Government is pushing that week! Ideas about open debate, transparency and democratic principles which are demanded by the people in Ontario or Massachusetts are unheard of and are not practiced in Newfoundland politics. It is a simple matter for the Government of Newfoundland to ram through any piece of undemocratic legislation or enter into any sort of crackpot project it wants to. Nobody in the opposition or the public can stop it unless they are prepared to find numerous flaws in the Government propaganda and can acquire evidence of corruption and blatant incompetence in the Government. That type of inquiry requires work and perseverance to achieve and few in the media, opposition, academia or the public are willing to undertake such an onerous task! It is not surprising that Newfoundland politicians think that the World revolves around them and they act accordingly.

  • Stann
    November 10, 2012 - 09:31

    Darin king don't want to hear from experts. What else would you expect from a bully. FIts well with that party of Dunderdale and Kennedy. God help NFLd

  • Harvey
    November 10, 2012 - 08:49

    Aren't Martin and Gilbert experts? Right? What about MHI? Isn't that an expert body? Right? If you start this expert game that's beginning to be talked about, you must ask...when will it ever end? If for no other reason, we need clean energy projects to save our planet from choking to death. Get over the political childishness and get it done. Simply using escalating electrical costs to oppose the project is not enough of an argument to stop MF" development. What is not escalating in costs these days?

  • Ben
    November 10, 2012 - 08:15

    So what constitutes bringing in 'experts'? Does it mean everytime a budget needs to be passed there have to be experts brought in to make sure everything is done correctly? The budget is a huge amount of money...usually in the 5-6 billion range. What about the OCI decision? Should we bring experts in for that debate? The legislature is a place for elected representatives...i voted for my MHA to make the best decision on issues on my behalf. It is so easy for some of these political science professor's to say this...especially when one of them works in the Liberal office in Confederation Building and used to work for Siobhan Coady. Mmmmmm...interesting!